No Longer Prodigal

You know what just made me a little bit angry? It was this cute little picture on facebook with a big caption promising that blessings and breakthrough are coming if you can just hold out a little while longer. Don’t worry, your breakthrough is just around the next corner. Have you seen any of those? Maybe you’ve heard the Sunday-morning equivalent, preachers proclaiming tidings of revival soon to come if you can just hang on a little longer, pray just a little harder. There were at least a couple years during my childhood and into teen years that I got a good taste of that pre-revival culture, it seemed like that was all anybody wanted from God.

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Let me tell you something: you don’t need breakthrough, and you don’t need revival.

Everything is yours already.

You don’t have to wait for breakthrough, or blessings, or revival, or healing. Let me tell you something: there were two brothers. One took his inheritance and left home and squandered it away. The other stayed at home and worked. Now get this: both brothers squandered the wealth available to them, and both brothers were born with their wealth already secured. Younger brother takes his inheritance to the world to spend it how he will, older brother continues to serve his father bitterly on the farm.

The younger brother wakes up one day in a pig pen with nothing left, he’s thinking the pig food looks pretty great right about now. But he realizes that in his father’s house even the servants are taken care of. Even the servants. So he gets up and goes back to his father to ask for…a job. But of course you know this story; this dignified middle-eastern father runs full-tilt down the road and bear-hugs his son and brings him back into the house and back into his place as son. 

The older brother…is working in the fields. Hard at it. He comes back to the house–probably tired, probably dirty, probably with that accomplished feeling some people get from a hard day’s work when they believe hard work is the extent of their value–he finds out from one of the servants what all the commotion in the house is all about and he gets mad. He gets so angry he stays outside. Father comes out to him and he goes into an immediate tangent about ‘that son of yours’-this and ‘me and my friends’-that, like ‘Okay Dad if this is how you treat that little brat then you owe me big time…’

Father just looks at him and says ‘Son…you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’

And then he says this: ‘it’s right that we should be celebrating; my son was dead, and is alive again – he was lost but now he’s found.’ This doesn’t have anything to do with labor efforts or work-induced loyalty, son, this isn’t about what he or you deserves, it isn’t about whether I’m partial or not, it’s about what you both have already had all along and who you both are to me.

I know, I’m paraphrasing. So sue me–or go read it again for yourself in Luke 15.

But something I’ve never thought about before came to me tonight as I’ve been thinking about this story. This can’t be a typical salvation story. I know what you’re thinking: ‘But context! Jesus just finished telling two parables about repentant sinners! How is this not a salvation story?’

First of all, the only ‘salvation story’ I know is where Jesus died on the cross in our place. And listen, I know this is a great parable for salvation–except that salvation isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. The very word ‘salvationin the original Hebrew of the Bible is interchangeable with Jesus’ name, Yeshua–it’s the same root, and some Jewish scholars believe it should be used in proper noun form every time so that we know, this is a person we’re really talking about here – this is Jesus. And second, if it were really about salvation the younger son could never have made it home on his own, because salvation is about Jesus finding us. Salvation is about Jesus finding that runaway lamb, and that lost coin. But this story is about the son remembering his Father’s favor and hoping that he could be counted worthy to be a servant. It isn’t about the journey back, it’s about the reception. But I digress: I don’t want to make a mountain out of that mole hill just yet.

What I do want to make clear is this: they were both sons. They were in the house, they both already had an inheritance. They both had benefits from their father, they were both in his favor. And they were born that way. If there were a point for a salvation-analogy it might’ve come years before in a generous display of adoption on the father’s part. But they are both already there. And what does that mean? It means both brothers were just as close to their breakthroughs, their blessings and their revivals in the beginning of the story, as they were at the end. It means the only breakthrough you need happens when you realize it’s already yours, because everything Father has is yours, and you’re always with him. You were born in his house.

Here’s what’s changed about my perspective: I’ve come to realize that when Jesus says it’s finished, then it’s finished. For almost 2000 years people have been born outside of sin–albeit, into a sin-marred world–because Jesus took care of sin on the cross; sin is no longer God’s issue which means everyone is free, everyone is accepted, and everyone is justified of sin against God. The kingdom has changed hands and you were not born into Adam’s bloodline but Christ is your brother and God is your father. You’re in the house.

Or maybe you’re the prodigal. Maybe you took your rightful inheritance and you squandered it with the world. Maybe you didn’t know just what it was worth, maybe you didn’t understand what it meant. But there is still a place back home for you.

Or maybe you’re the older brother, back home laboring in the fields hoping Father will notice you and give you some favor, but there is still a place in Father’s house for you, and you’ll miss the inheritance you were born with if you live your life believing your value is based on how hard you work rather than who you were born to. 

Do you want a breakthrough? Read Romans. Read Galatians. Read Ephesians. Read Hebrews. Get a handle on what Jesus did once for all time on the cross. Because listen; God is not limited by your faithfulness. He is not limited by whether you decide to be in sin, or not. Whether you decide or not, sin is dealt with.

I heard a story last night about a lady paying it forward to a rich-looking woman behind her in the drive-thru – it turned out the woman was bankrupt and completely out of hope but that one coffee turned everything on its head for her as a sign from God. Someone asked the question, what if that lady hadn’t listened to that voice in her head telling her to pay it forward in spite of the appearances of the woman in the convertible behind her?

And that used to be a gripping question for me – what if? What if I don’t listen to Holy Spirit’s voice? What if I miss it?

But my immediate thought was, God is not limited by my faithfulness. God is not dependent on my faithfulness. If that lady hadn’t paid it forward, I absolutely believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that Father would have given that woman hope some other way, because he’s Father. Of course he’s going to do everything he can for his children. He was probably dropping hints all around that woman so that whatever direction she looked she’d see at least one. And when it comes down to it anyway, the Rock is always present at Rock Bottom

But it’s our opportunity, not his. It’s our opportunity whether we let him use us or not, not his, because he’s going to accomplish his plans either way, but more importantly he’s already accomplished his big plan for us and we are back. That’s why salvation isn’t his opportunity anymore, it’s ours, because he already took his opportunity on the cross, now it’s your turn, to hear that good news, believe it, and let it change your mind because it really is good enough. Boom.

And that opportunity is instantaneous. You want breakthrough? Take it. You want revival? You are revival. You were born revival. You are alive! The life you now live you live by the Spirit of God, and there’s no jury on that because it is finished. 

And I’m not going to paint it pretty, because life isn’t easy, it’s a series of growth-enabling challenges and yes, we do live in a sin-marred world with sin-scarred bodies. But you don’t need breakthrough on your challenges, you need to grow through your challenges–or not, that’s up to you. But your challenges are too important to use to discredit the value and inheritance you already have in Father’s house.

So bottom line? Stop waiting for what you’ve been hoping for and try this thought on for size: Father has already given it to you – you just have to know it’s really yours. All the breakthrough you’ll ever need happened at the cross and Jesus cried out with his dying breath, ‘It is finished.‘ You can’t get any more complete than that. So come on into the house, join the party, because it’s all for you, too.

The Gospel and the Myth of Repentance

You have to come at the gospel from the truth, ‘There is nothing I can do.’

Yes, you were a sinner, you were drowned in sin. But nearly 2000 years ago God was born in human flesh. I know, it’s a long long time and maybe you wonder how two millennia ago there could have been anything relevant to you. But there was this. Jesus grew up. He lived as a man under sin. And then he died bearing all sin in his body. He took the whole sin problem on his shoulders and it crushed him–but it was finished.

And there’s nothing you can do. Want to rid yourself of sin against Father? Too bad: Jesus already rid the whole world of sin. You can’t get any more sinless. Want to make yourself acceptable before God? Too bad: Jesus already made you acceptable when he died and rose again from the grave three days later, representing you. That means that when he died it was just as if you died. When Father raised him to life, Father raised you to life. You are justified, as in ‘just-as-ifIed never sinned, because sin is no longer an issue.

And there is nothing you can do; almost 2000 years ago while he was dying on the cross Jesus suddenly knew that what he had come to accomplish had been accomplished, and he yelled out with a dying breath, ‘It is finished!’

Religion, and corporate church, think they have monopoly on finishing; they will teach you to repent your sins and beg for God’s forgiveness, and then tell you that you must work hard to be good enough to earn Father’s favor. Or they might say to show yourself worthy or deserving. But there is nothing you can do.

And while we’re on the subject of repentance

Repentance isn’t a Greek word, which means you won’t find it in the original language of the New Testament-side of the Bible, and you certainly won’t find it in the Old Testament-side. It’s a Latin word, which means somewhere down the line someone took a Greek word and a Hebrew word and a Latin word and decided that they all matched. But do you want to know what the words meant?

נָחַם (Strong’s H5162, pronounced na-cham): properly, to sigh, i.e. breathe strongly; by implication, to be sorry, i.e. (in a favorable sense) to pity, console or (reflexively) rue; or (unfavorably) to avenge (oneself):—comfort (self), ease (one’s self), repent(-er,-ing, self)

נָחַם is translated more often as ‘comforted’ in the Old Testament, than as ‘repented’, but actually as a primitive root it simply describes that emotive exhale that always says more than any words. Look it up on Blue Letter Bible.

μετανοέω (Strong’s G3340, pronounced me-tä-no-e’-ō): to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction):—repent.

And here’s a fun fact: when the Septuagint (the early Greek Bible) was translated from Hebrew, μετανοέω was used several times to translate נָחַם, but in the King James Bible μετανοέω is translated repent every time.

So what’s the problem with that? I wasn’t going to get into the etymology of the word but pictures tell more than I can say.

Repent and penance come from the same Latin root; in fact the only real difference between them is that repentance jumped into Old French before it became an –ance word. If you line up these etymologies, penance and repentance are actually the same word. And that shouldn’t surprise you if you look at how English has preserved their similarities. And here’s another interesting fact: the word penitentiary–as in, a prison–comes from that same Latin root paenitere.

So what’s the problem? Penance is not a Biblical concept. Here’s a Google definition:

  1. 1.

    voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.

     “he had done public penance for those hasty words”

    2.

     a Christian sacrament in which a member of the Church confesses sins to a priest and is given absolution.

Voluntary selfpunishment, confessing sins to a priest for absolution? Are you getting this? There’s nothing you can do! There’s nothing a priest can do for you. You can’t beat yourself up enough for God. Did you know that repentance could be a form of self-harm? I didn’t–until now. Does that sound Biblical? Does that sound like Father? Many people think so.

People deep in religion will tell you there’s no way you could actually know or prove this, or maybe that you have to have a seminary degree to really understand. Do you want to know how long it took me to put together this little word study? About 20 minutes. On my 4-inch cell phone screen. And it’s true whether you have a seminary degree or not. But it is people such as these who have twisted and modified entire translations to seize religious control and promote their man-made pseudo-covenant.

So what is real…repentance? I don’t even want to use that word anymore because it carries so much religious manipulation with it for me now. To distinguish, you have to keep in mind that sin is already dealt with – there is no sin issue between you and God anymore; the only thing he keeps tract of is Jesus crying out, ‘It is finished!’ and either Jesus took care of all your sins past present and future irregardless of repentance, or he didn’t really take care of any until you repent (and repent regularly)–as many of the religious teach. But we know that the religious concepts of repentance and penance are not actually in the Bible, so that simply can’t be true.

Here’s a picture: Jesus dies and Father raises him from the dead three days later. Jesus stays with his disciples for 40 days letting his living presence seep into them. Then he ascends into the sky–he’s just carried away–after telling them to wait in Jerusalem. They wait in Jerusalem, ten days later the Holy Spirit falls on them on Pentecost, Peter preaches to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover who are all astir because all these simple Galileans are praising God and all the people understand in their own native languages. Peter proclaims the death, resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ through King David’s prophecy and the people respond:

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  – Acts 2:37-39

Cut to the heart. Pricked deep. The Greek word for this is only used once in the Bible and it has a very literal physical and metaphorical definition which is reflected very well by the phrase ‘cut to the heart‘. This is a Holy-Spirit-level event that would definitely cause you to experience נָחַם–nacham–and make you want to μετανοέω–metänoe’ō.

And did you catch what Peter says about the promise of the outpouring of Holy Spirit? It is for everyone who is called by God. And guess what: it was Holy Spirit that brought those people to that heart-in-throat, mind-changing moment. Holy Spirit called them, and they responded.

There is nothing you can do–except, respond. Let your heart be pricked and your mind be changed by the good news: the Jesus who your sin crushed is alive and he is King!

Better Is Possible

There’s a phrase I learned several years back in a seminar which (the seminar, that is) really stretched my boundaries (for a few weeks, anyway) and had quite a strong impact on my life. It made me stop and reevaluate my, well…values.

The phrase was, “If better is possible, is good good enough?”

Think about that for a minute.

From a Christian standpoint I immediately think about the son who ended up prodigal in a pigpen after squandering his inheritance. After becoming hungry enough to eat the slop given to the pigs this guy had an epiphany: “Hey, even being a servant in my father’s house is better than this…”

But the honest truth is, I can’t identify with that young man. I didn’t have a miraculous and life-changing turn-around testimony like I envied other Christians for. I didn’t get and squander what I believed was my rightful inheritance. The truth is, I identify with his older brother.

The brother. The brother stays home, he keeps working away on the farm. And one day that selfish, unworthy little brother of his comes home and Father throws a party. The older brother is angry because he doesn’t understand that both he and his brother always had their father’s favor, irregardless, and all this time he had not really known who his father was and what his relationship to Father meant. As someone once pointed out, he could’ve had more than just a goat if he’d only asked.

So what does this have to do with good and better, anyway?

I started there but I didn’t end there. I’ve dared to believe that my inheritance is more than I knew. I slowly left a bitter good for a gracious better. And I got the goat, too. Good just wasn’t good enough when I dared to think better was possible. And my forever-faithful Father didn’t let me down on his word.

But there are other brothers.

There are people out there who I know heard the same challenge for better. And they aren’t even interested in seeing what it’s all about.

I’ll be Frank for a minute (because what I’m going to say I may need an alternate identity to live down), I’ve heard what I believe described as, loosely put, doctrine of hell. By people who I have a very hard time believing know really what I believe because they’ve never talked to me. Maybe they’ve read some of my article titles and/or excerpts on facebook, but I can’t begin to guess where they have gotten their information if what they have taken away is that I am teaching a satanic, ungodly doctrine. Is there room for mistakes? Sure. I make mistakes, everybody does. But all that’s beside the point. The point is, better is possible, but so many older brothers out there are sulking outside the house because they’ve believed an exclusive doctrine all their lives that told them, ‘You don’t deserve that goat, you go back out and slave some more in the fields and then, maybe you’ll be on Dad’s good side. Or maybe if you believe hard enough, or faith strong enough.

Better is possible. Better is real. It isn’t something that will send you to hell if you believe it; it isn’t something that will get God mad at you. It’s grace, and love, and peace, and there’s always more. So do you want to hear about it?

Jesus Loves You

That’s the end.

And just the beginning.

There’s only one thing I want you to read in my blogs; Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you. You. Reading this right now. He loves you. Do you know how many people spend their lives searching desperately for a love like his? But few find it, and fewer keep it, because religion has adulterated it. Religion has put Jesus out on a street corner under the guise that if you just do good enough, perform well enough, measure up, and transform into a lifeless Bible-thumping zombie, then Jesus will accept you, never mind love you.

That’s not to say religion has any power over Jesus – he baffled the religious leaders of his own day at every encounter and the moment they thought they’d finally won was the moment his plan was put into full affect, resurrection life was given to man but even more than that the gulf separating us from Father was slammed shut, the inner veil torn top to bottom and Father grabbed on to you never to let go.

Religion doesn’t want you to know about that, or what it means for you–but I digress; this post is not about religion.

It’s about Father. Father loves you. Father loves you. Are you starting to understand? Have you ever felt loved by someone? Anyone? Can you recall, or feel right now, what love feels like? Father is love. Love’s source is Father. Father loves you and he’s never going to stop; it is a non-negotiable.

And as every aspect of the dark side of the Force emmanates from hate, so every good and perfect gift is sourced from love–His love. Did you see the sunrise this morning? His love. Have you felt a playful breeze on your face? His love. Have you known the deep intimate knowing of a best friend, or a lover? His love.

And it is immutable. He’s never going to change his mind about you, no matter what you do or how far you go or how much you may hate him, he loves you. When Jude wrote to the young church he said even Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil himself over Moses’ body, didn’t dare bring even one accusation against Satan but said, ‘The LORD rebuke you’ … could it be he didn’t dare because he knew Father loved even Lucifer yet in his irreversible state of rebellion against that very love? Father loved Lucifer, you can be certain of that.

Jesus loves you. Father loves you. For Father to stop loving you it would mean he would have to rebel against himself; God can’t do that. And so immutably [unchangeably] you have been drawn into the family of Father, Son, Spirit–Brother, Sister. Father loves you.

But of course you want to know why bad things still happen to good people. The worst thing happened to the very Son of God when he was brutally beaten, literally ripped to shreds and tacked up to slowly suffocate on a wooden cross–but actually it was the best thing that has happened in the history of the world and perhaps the eternal history of the Godhead family because it meant that you were brought home forever. 

Religion has no answer for that question. It first asks you if you have accepted Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Saviour, and then it asks if you have repented, without understanding what repentance really means. It may tell you that you just need to perform better or believe harder or devote yourself fully, because religion always leaves man’s effort at 99.9%–‘there must be something you haven’t done hard enough, well enough or often enough’–but the Gospel–the good news–declares man’s efforts are 0% or worse with no exceptions but that Jesus stepped in before the problem was even the problem and he declared to Father, ‘I have come to do your will … so that man can rest his efforts in my 100%’.

Father loves you. If bad things still happen it is because this world is a broken place and the sons of Adam have ceased to display the glory of God to nature and the earth groans exceeding to see the glory of Creator Father in his sons. But there’s one more thing to say; bad things could be the best things to happen to you because when you come to the end of yourself and you hit rock bottom that’s when you will see the full glory and strength and grace of the Rock who keeps you from drowning and lifts you up on wings like eagles–enter Jesus’ 100% when your weakness declares His strength.

And Father loves you. That is what is important because the more you experience his love for you the more you will see and interpret your life hidden within his love for you, the more you will experience this life of Father’s love and the less you will experience the life of this old body in a broken world–or the more the world will respond to the glory of the Father emanating out of you

Father loves you.

Secure in Love

Not long back I read a lovely article about grace from a fellow writer. But as I was scrolling down to leave my response I couldn’t help noticing a comment from another reader.With all the respect due (and I’m sure they believed they were doling out nothing but perfect wisdom) but it was full of warning as I understood it, for being too free. Now truthfully, it was a mild comment and I might have been able to agree with it, but it reminded me too much of the spirit I’ve seen all too often in the church against the liberating grace of Jesus.

I’ll pre-warn you; this is a little bit of a rant.

You’ve probably heard it, too – comments such as, ‘Oh you’d better be careful, make sure you’re still in the will of the Lord, you don’t want to go from one ditch to the other–greasy grace will let you slide right into hell,’ and the sentiment that it is the church’s job to frighten people into right living–because frankly, they can’t fathom any other way to do it than fear and the fiery brimstone of excommunication.

Let me put it another way; the church has been hell-bent on trying to make herself perfect and holy and righteous like it’s the highest calling, and people who embrace grace get the scourging sooner because we’ve stopped trying to be perfect, and it doesn’t compat with the system.

But the thing you have to understand, Church, is it’s all about the love of Christ. It’s all about the love of Father and pursuing him. Here’s how the surety of righteousness and perfection works: we fall in love with Jesus (because he first loves us with an everlasting all-consuming love) and we declare him Lord of our lives (because who wouldn’t let the King of Love be Lord when they realize it’s themselves he loves?) And he begins to transform our lives. The church is there to encourage and build up (and she needs to realize that not everything she says encourages or builds up) but the job of making us clean and pure and a beautiful bride belongs to God. His spirit comes to live in our hearts and from that point on, he holds sway. No, we’re not perfect, but it’s not our job to become perfect anymore.

It’s all based on relationship, you see. I fell in love with Jesus, now his desires become my desires, his perfection my perfection, because I love him and of course I want to live right–my whole body and being was created to do so, and I love him.

‘But how do you expect to stay disciplined? How are you going to stay out of the ditches if your fellow church members don’t tell you where they are?’

The fear-mongering in the church makes me mad–it makes me angry. And truly–Jesus didn’t dig ditches along the straight-and-narrow; the church did that herself. Why are you so afraid of freedom, Church? Stop burdening the children with fear; fear is worship to demons. A love relationship with Jesus leaves room for mistakes, but not fear–perfect love casts out fear. So if you aren’t here to encourage, please;

Butt out. The only counselor I need is named Wonderful.

The state of it is simply this: a relationship with God–with love–means safety; it means freedom to learn, grow and be transformed glorious by Holy Spirit (take it from one who has a growing relationship with him). So the question is, do you trust his love to guide you? Do you trust Holy Spirit’s holiness to transform you? Do you believe Holy Spirit’s holiness is transforming–and if so, why would you even consider yourself great enough to affect His transformation by accident? There is grace; His love and His heart is safe.

To Die Is Gain

“I used to be afraid to die…” I began.

I went on to explain how the truth and faithfulness of Jesus had won out in my story over fear and death and fear of death. The truth is, I really did used to be afraid to die.

And I’d heard that line Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi over and over but the reality is you just don’t know you don’t know till you know; unless you know Jesus personally, you can’t understand the strength and courage and peace behind the words of someone who knows Jesus personally–it’s just words.

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For[c] I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.

 – Philippians 1:19-24

But for me, to live, Christ! To die, gain!

Why is living Christ? Because I live by Christ’s life. Why is death gain? Because death is the end of this sin-riddled flesh, but only the very beginning of Christ’s life. Why does that mean anything? Because I want to know Christ!

It’s something I’ve been thinking quite a bit about lately–particularly after a friend recently announced the death of his grandmother–and death doesn’t scare me anymore (if anything scares me it’s decay; growing old and turning to mush). I don’t fear anymore either, the possibility that I could die and end up in hell for some unrepentant thing, or for exploring too far–grace and truth gave me a new security in my life now hidden in Christ; love.

And that’s the thing: if you’ve chosen to follow Jesus and you’ve been baptised, symbolizing your acceptance to share in his death and new life, then where, oh Death, is your sting? Where, Hell, is your victory? My hope is hidden in the Lord, the King of Glory, the King above all kings, who was and is and is to come! And it goes right back along with the deep question, “Do you really trust God?” Is your hope in him? And could it be that the hymn spoke of a true hope?

We have this hope that burns within our hearts / Hope in the coming of the Lord / We have this faith that Christ alone imparts / Faith in the promise of His word

– We Have This Hope [Wayne Hooper]

But it’s even better than the words Adventists still sing–better than maybe Mr. Hooper ever knew; because Jesus is alive in me and in every Christian who has shared in His death and resurrection and proclaims Him Lord. I understand now why Paul was able to make such a bold statement about his uncertain future, because I now know the One who he was talking about.

Be a Lover

Something recently triggered a shift in the way I view God; I’ve always known the common imagery–“Father”, “Bridegroom”, “Comforter”, et cetera–titles that put God on an intimate level in all his persons, but it was all head-knowledge. But I read something in an article from Steve McVey and I can’t remember the exact wording but it was to this affect: the Bible isn’t a guidebook; it is a deeply intimate love letter–to me (and you).

I grew up under that notion–that the Bible was an instruction manual for getting through life. The problem with that view is that it just isn’t a very good instruction manual for my life (e.g.: ‘Judas hung himself’–‘go and do likewise’ is a common ‘Bible joke’). And when you begin to view God as a Lover to the core, the Bible looks less and less like a study guide, and more and more like a lovestory.

And I think, Church, that this is where you go off, because you’re having an identity crisis because you don’t understand God’s identity as a lover. Love–not rule and correction–ought to be your first response. And don’t give me that old excuse that discipline is love; it may be true, but you don’t know how to discipline. When I feel the most filled with the love of Jesus all I want to do is go out and spread that experience, not tell people how wrong they are. Truth can condemn, or Truth can set captives free.

And I think, Church, that this is why you leave, because you’re having an identity crisis with your split-personality-church-bodies that can’t catch your visions because they don’t have your fresh perspective (and may think your fresh perspective is sin); it’s frustrating I know, but you were called to follow Christ, not Christians. You can’t disown being the Church – it’s still who you are.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I’ve come to the question: who is God if not an intimate lover? If that isn’t your view of him, what is there left for him to be that remotely meets your intimate needs (let alone the rest of the broken world)? I never realized how bleak my world was (even with ‘God’) without a Lover King, till now.

And there’s another thing, you know; I never connected Father, Spirit and Jesus like this before. I’ve always in my mind put a chasm between them to say ‘Well this is Father’s characteristic,’ or ‘This is Jesus’ characteristic,’ or ‘This is what the Spirit does,’ but to realize that each of them have their intimate titles–Abba, Daddy; Bridegroom, Lover; Comforter, Inhabitor–God in all through all a lover, a Father, a Bridegroom, a Comforter–a hugger, a carresser. When you hear, “This is my son (or daughter) with whom I am well pleased,” the Father loves you. When you hear “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away with me,” the Bridegroom, Jesus, the Romancer loves you. When you hear, “Peace, be still,” and feel the warmth of his heart, Holy Spirit loves you.

So, how do you experience God? There is no wrong answer to that, because your experience is still real whether it is a completely acurate experience or not. So, how do you experience him? Who is he to you? Does the God that you see meet the needs that you have according to his glorious riches? Is his character true across all his persons? Does he love you with an everlasting love? Read the Song of Solomon and tell me God doesn’t have an intimate sense of love and romance. Because I’ll tell you something (and this is another gem Leif Hetland teaches about), there has been a reformation to bring the loveletter back to the people; there has been a reformation to bring Holy Spirit experience back to the people, and those were good reformations. But there is another reformation coming–I believe it is already here–to bring the Father’s heart back to the children, and Grace and Truth back to the bride.

Jesus, I long to know true love, deeper than the love found on earth. Take me into the King’s chamber; cause my love to mature.

Let me know the kisses of your mouth; let me feel your warm embrace. Let me smell the fragrance of your touch; let me see your lovely face. Take me away with you – even so Lord come. I love you Lord; I love you more than life.

My heart, my flesh yearn for You, Lord; to love You is all I can do. You have become my sole passion; cause my love to be true

True Love, David Ruis

What would it look like to experience Jesus’ love–the love of God–so radically? What does it look like? Can you imagine? Or does it seem too sacrilegious or irreverent to you? Even I feel a little out on the deep end–but O how deep the Father’s love for us, that we would be called Sons.

So here’s my challenge: view God as a lover, Father son and Spirit. View the Bible as a love letter to you. Find out what that love letter has to say to you. (How would that change your perspective on things?) And then? Love like no other, because there is no other love like Father’s in you.

You Give Them Something to Eat

What if we’ve been asking God for something he already asked us to do?

I’ve been pondering over this statement from Leif Hetland along with an illustration he gave from the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 (well actually, his disciples feeding the 5000).

And it’s been floating around in my mind ever since I first heard it in part of his Baptism of Love teaching series – what if we’ve been asking God to do something he already asked us to do? As Leif put it, “We call it prayer–he calls it disobedience.”

But the other day particularly I was thinking about it again, and disconnectedly at another time I was thinking about revival and all the people I’ve been around for the last ten years and so much of the focus has been on asking God for revival.

But what if that’s not right?

Now don’t send out a witch-hunt for me – I’m not saying God hasn’t answered the cry of the church for revival in the past, and throughout history–and those stories are amazing, I would so love to be a part of one of those revival stories. But what if that’s not exactly the model for the emerging revolution?

You give them something to eat … “

And I’ll be the first to say, “Well, God does it all – we can’t do it by ourselves – we can’t make revival happen … ” et cetera.

But the thing is, revival already happened; it happened when you were baptized. You are revival. Or at least, you should be if Jesus is still Lord.

And don’t peel off into the other ditch and say “Well Carson are you telling me I’m not really saved or something because I don’t have miracles popping out my ears?”

No. I’m saying the mustard seed that could change the world is in you. God already brought revival – now what are you going to do with it? You’re called into a royal priesthood – where is the kingdom and who will you mediate for? How can you let the revival in you out to the dry bones around you?

Or are you dead yourself, dried up, run down, burned out on praying for God to do the thing he already did in you? Maybe the gifts are dormant and covered in a layer of dust a mile thick, maybe you didn’t know that church was a place for everyone–not just a few Spiritual superstars–to be the moving parts of the body; you have a role.

So are we asking God to do things he’s already asked us to do? Just some things I want to think about for myself.

Baptism: The Unfulfilled Mission

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  – Matthew 28:18-20

There’s something I’ve had on my mind for quite some time, and that is the subject of baptism.

To get right to the heart of things first I guess I’ll share my own baptism “experience”, which happened when I was around the age of ten or eleven; it was June 21, 2004–if I’m remembering the date right (I lost my cute little baptism card that they gave me afterward–gasp! I know)

Now here’s a little background on that period of my life: I was so unbelievably full of myself. I don’t mean I was conceited or stuck-up (well, I might have been) but I mean I thought that as far as my life was concerned, I was it; it was all up to me and God was the bar (to borrow a term from my good friend Caralyn 😉 ) I never would’ve thought it then in so many words, but I was raised in church for performance and hard work and I thought that having read through the New Testament twice by the age of eleven was a pretty good one-up on my peers–okay yeah you’re right, I was just a little conceited. I’ve said this before but one day I read Galatians for the first time and I honestly thought Paul had a screw loose because he said being a Christian wasn’t about performance; I just couldn’t compute the idea that it didn’t really have anything to do with whether I did “good” things or “bad”.

I can’t pin-point exactly when it started, but it was around this same time that I started to develop an addiction first to masturbation and later on to pornography. What I can pin-point is the memory of the night that started it all after I saw some soft-core pornographic content in a movie that was probably only rated PG–wow; from PG to R’s and XXX’s. But that’s another story. What I do know is that I was deep enough into some pretty self-satisfying behaviors by the time baptism was brought up to me as a possibility.

So I said yes.

Of course I did; after all, I’m just a kid trying to get to heaven and I have this habit going on that I don’t even know if it’s right or wrong or just okay but I’m so scared that it’s going to keep me on the ground when that day comes. So of course I’ll safe-guard myself. Funny how my logic went from performance to just get baptized and you’ll be safe.

And you know, I’m not here to judge, not even my past self. He did a lot of things that I would rather he hadn’t, but he still got me here. That’s actually something that has taken me a long time to be able to say.

So on to my baptism.

I was baptized in a lake on (I believe) a Sunday afternoon. Dunk, surrounded by a bunch of women praying over me, done. It rained and thundered after. I was purposely baptized by a pastor not belonging to my family’s denomination so that church politics didn’t get involved.

So? What’s the big deal?

Because of my motives, I didn’t feel at peace about my baptism; I never did, first because no matter how much I reminded myself that I was “definitely saved” now, I had absolutely no assurance of that, and secondly because getting baptized didn’t magically give me power and control over the hormones that were ruling me. God was still the bar (and by that I mean I made being exactly like Jesus and doing exactly what he would do into my personal occupation) and I went deeper into the depths of loneliness and depression as the claws of my own sexuality held me tighter and tighter. But this isn’t just another history lesson.

But as you might imagine, I’ve had a lot to think about. For a long time I wanted to be re-baptized because I didn’t feel like that first one was enough. I’ve since (but only recently) come to terms–I think–with my own baptism, and I don’t feel any more desire to be dunked under again.

But with that out of the way my thought began shifting from, ‘should I be re-baptized?’ to ‘what qualification do I need to baptize people?’ I mean, isn’t that ultimately what we’re supposed to be doing as Christians? So why is it that so few Christians are actually preaching the gospel and baptizing people into the death and resurrection life of Jesus? I suppose it all started with my wife’s desire to be re-baptized and the suggestion that I could do it. Well my instant response of course was, ‘Oh but I can’t’… well, why not? I help lead and mentor a group of teens–if one of them wants to get baptized then shouldn’t I be the first to take them down into the waters? Just where did this idea come from that Christians have to have some kind of credential to baptize?

So I started digging around a while back and honestly it was a little inconclusive. I wanted to find something to say just when the disciples started baptizing people, but the gospels only mention Jesus (or his disciples) baptizing briefly. John notes that Jesus wasn’t baptizing but that his disciples were doing it all.

And then of course we have Jesus’ commission to the twelve disciples–the first place I ever read it was in Matthew 10; Jesus gives them power to heal and cast out demons and he says to them, “Freely you have received; freely give.” [Matthew 10:8] Heal the sick, cleanse the leper, raise the dead, cast out devils, and tell everyone the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Does that make you feel totally useless too or is that just me? Honestly I read that and I think, “Well who cares if anyone thinks you should be some spiritual superstar to baptize people–the Kingdom is at hand, this job is urgent!” And the disciples weren’t even superstars yet, but they went out and miracles became their norm.

I know it doesn’t have anything specific to say about it there but that just kind of blows the whole baptism question right out of the water for me.

And it’s not like I don’t know what it’s all about either. I’ll save the theological lesson for another time but baptism is just a symbol that a person publicly accepts 1) Jesus’ death and resurrection for them and join with him in them as symbolized by the baptism itself and 2) that they are a sinner and don’t want to be and accept Jesus as Lord. And then it’s open-season on their lives for the Holy Spirit’s baptism in fire. I didn’t really understand any of that when I was baptized but now all I want to do is show people what it all really is about and give anyone who might want it the opportunity to be baptized. I mean, Phillip just met some Ethiopian guy along the road and ended up baptizing the guy right there on the way for crying out loud, so why don’t we have more stories like that to share? Could it be because we’re too concerned about credentials and denominational memberships and making sure people follow our lead on their new Christian lives rather than Christ’s lead for them? “No, Joe, that wheat goes in our barn … ” Something to think about. The workers are few; I don’t think Jesus sent his disciples to seminary before he let them start dunking people.

And just another thing: when did baptism become such a ceremonious thing? I mean, look at the early church. Three thousand were added to the church in a day–somehow I don’t think there was time for one-hundred twenty believers to make a big show out of baptizing three thousand people. Philip just did it right along the roadside. I mean, sure, say the right things (and who’s to say you have to say anything?), make sure you do it for the right reasons, you’re helping an orphan make good on a royal family adoption here–but you’re helping an orphan for crying out loud – let their “yes” to God be “yes” and dunk that poor soul.

So how can I conclude? I’m going to tell people about the Kingdom of Heaven, I’m going to heal the sick, cast out demons. I might need some discipleship from Jesus, and I definitely need some help from Holy Spirit now that he is growing these Kingdom desires in me, but by golly I’m going to announce that Kingdom. And maybe, I’ll baptize, too.

Jesus… the harvest is great and the workers truly are few. I can hardly believe the intensity of this desire you’ve put in me to baptize and lead people into your life and it excites me so much. Continue to teach me more so that you in me will be an effective witness. 

I know, I haven’t posted anything in a while and it’s a little rough getting back into it 😉 bear with me. In the meantime, why don’t you share your thoughts or tell me about your baptism ‘experience’ in the comments section below!

Dark Days

I’ve been back and forth about sharing this one, because it isn’t my usual post, but I’ve gotta be a little honest, I’ve been having some dark days. What’s a dark day? Well usually it begins with a thought, a bitter or disappointing memory – a regret. And it swells.

Because the truth is I have regrets. I’m not talking about the kind of regret you have over eating too much pizza, or having an especially embarrassing moment, (for someone with some social anxiety those are a whole different story, by the way) no. I’m talking about the kind of regret that stems out of missed–or not taken–opportunity, broken relationships, misunderstandings. I’m talking about the kind of regret that I still feel because when I was growing up and trying to become friends with people, I still froze up and couldn’t talk no matter how much I willed. That’s what I’m talking about.

Go back nine years. I know; that’s a long enough time for regret to still feel so raw. But I knew a girl and she gave me a crash course in being socially proper – I’m pretty sure I didn’t pass because after all this time I still think about what an absolute… I don’t even have a word to describe what a dysfunctional friend I made. I get on these ‘What if’ rabbit trails that go round and round thinking about how I could have opened my mouth and just. Talked. Instead of sitting there like an awkward yeti. And I vainly wish I could just have one more chance to say what I really, really mean – and would it make a difference, or just show me once again the awkward yeti unable to let the past be the past and fumbling under my carpet of self-preservative fur (I’m not actually hairy).

And a lot of people I once called friend have walked out of my life, some bitterly, some simply on their own direction. But this one person is different, and maybe it’s because it was part of a major shift in my life and everything might have been different had I done things differently, or maybe it was because they were the first person not related to me (read: expected to like me) and not thousands of miles across the globe that actually showed genuine interest in being my friend. And I had so little value to add.

I don’t think I have the words to explain how deeply that runs, and I still wish I could explain what I know now to them – but now our paths are far distant and it doesn’t do to tear stitches.

So what now? Honestly, I don’t have any kind of answer for that one. Usually after musing a while something comes to me, but I’ve been musing about this one for a long time and I still don’t know. I don’t know how to let the past pass; I don’t know how to not think about what could have been.

So Jesus…I have some more things to learn. I don’t know why this has weighed down my heart so heavily, especially recently – but I’d really like to have an idea and put it to rest; it’s not a light burden for me. Hide me under the shadow of your wing again and bring me back to a place of peace and rest. I just want to stand in your beauty.